Athens came from behind once against Gardendale Friday night, but the Golden Eagles couldn't do it twice.
Gardendale quarterback Will Crowder threw three touchdown passes, including one with 4:53 remaining in the game, as the Rockets held on to take a 21-14 win over the Golden Eagles.
Crowder, who has an offer to play at Arkansas, carved up the Athens secondary all night. The junior completed 16 of 19 passes for 246 yards and three scores.
While Gardendale did most of its damage in the air, Athens' offensive success came on the ground. The Golden Eagles rushed the ball 59 times for 285 yards, while only completing three passes for two yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, Gardendale struck early in the second quarter when Crowder found tight end Bailey Parsons open down the middle for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Athens squandered a golden opportunity to tie the game on its next possession, as the Golden Eagles drove the ball to the Gardendale 1-yard line before a bad snap resulted in a fumble the Rockets recovered at the 7-yard line.
Athens thought it had tied the game again on its next possession, as Julius Mayberry raced 77 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. Gardendale took its 7-0 lead into halftime.
The Rockets came out firing in the second half, scoring on their opening possession, as Crowder tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Boone.
Athens' offense then came to life, as the Golden Eagles found lots of success rushing the ball straight up the middle of the Gardendale defense. Jaelen Cates capped off Athens' opening drive of the second half with a 5-yard scoring run to bring the Golden Eagles to within seven.
After a short Gardendale punt gave Athens the ball at the Rockets' 46-yard line, the Golden Eagles wasted no time in tying the score. It only took seven plays for Athens to find the end zone, as Cates raced up the middle for a 20-yard score to tie the game at 14-14 with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Gardendale's next drive ended at Athens' 12-yard line as Crowder was intercepted by Heath Carden. Athens drove inside the Rockets' 40-yard line, but the drive stalled and the Golden Eagles had to punt. That's when Gardendale put together its game-winning drive. Crowder started the drive off with a 21-yard run, before Latravious Sanders ripped off runs of 12 and 16 yards.
Crowder would eventually cap the drive off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Boone for the winning margin. Athens' was forced to punt on its next drive, and Gardendale was able to pick up two first downs on its final drive to run out the clock.
Cates led Athens with 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, while Jaylen Gilbert had 71 yards on 21 carries.
Athens (0-1) hosts Hartselle next Friday in its Class 6A, Region 7 opener.